NSF GOALI grant funds sensor research partnership with Merck

Many homes today include safety devices like smoke, radon, and carbon monoxide detectors to warn us of threats our senses might not pick up in time. For those whose jobs regularly place them harm’s way, though, advanced sensing technology is not as readily available.

Thanks to a rare GOALI (Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), however, Kent State University researchers in the new Advanced Materials and Liquid Crystal Institute (AMLCI) will be able to work with partners at Merck Performance Materials to advance life-saving sensory technology.

The three-year grant provides $330,000 for Torsten Hegmann — Professor, Ohio Research Scholar, and associate director of the AMLCI, and Elda Hegmann — Assistant Professor in the AMLCI and Department of Biological Sciences in the Kent State College of Arts and Sciences, to study liquid crystal-nanoparticle sensors for detection of toxic gases and vapors.

Recent findings have shown that nanoparticles induce and alter the orientation of nematic liquid crystal molecules in direct contact with them. This interaction is the basis for creating highly sensitive and selective sensors that produce direct visual readouts or warnings without the use of electrical power.

The integrative sensor systems, which the Drs. Hegmann have developed with Merck Materials, can display an unmistakable warning in the form of text or an image in the presence of toxic gases and vapors, and provide parts-per-million level sensitivity.

Hegmann said the project may help them to produce various sensors uniquely designed for highly toxic gases that could protect the lives and health of firefighters and other first responders, military personnel in conflict zones, and workers in chemical manufacturing, among others. Sensors for volatile gases and vapors exhaled by humans also could be used to monitor disease states and disease progression.

The project also is supported by a $100,000 grant from the TeCK Fund, a hybrid technology commercialization accelerator program jointly administered by Kent State and Cleveland State University, with funding provided by the Ohio Third Frontier Commission and the two universities.

“This is one of three KSU projects we funded over the past year through the TeCK Fund, and it’s exactly the kind of research and innovation the partnership was intended to support,” said Steve Roberts, Kent State’s Technology Commercialization Director. “We are very proud of the work the Hegmanns have done with Merck Materials, and of course we are very pleased that the NSF saw the same potential in this project.”

Media Contacts:
Dan Pompili, dpompili@kent.edu, 330-672-0731
Emily Vincent, evincen2@kent.edu, 330-672-8595


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